Legislative leaders said they were making progress Sunday as they struggled to work out a water deal, but couldn't predict if they would reach an agreement.
"It's hard to say how close you are until you get there," said Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth as negotiators broke for dinner after daylong talks.
The leaders planned to work into the night, though Hollingsworth, the Republican leader from Murieta, was doubtful they could complete their work Sunday.
He said the issues dividing the four leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger remained the same as they have for days: water conservation and balancing water rights with monitoring how property owners pump groundwater. They had barely had time Sunday to discuss how to pay for water system improvements.
"We're making progress," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles as she left the governor's office with her fellow Democratic leader, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento.
"We're boiling it down and trying to see if we can land on a package that keeps this broad coalition together and will get the support of all of our members," said Steinberg.
Even if the leaders reach a compromise, they said it was unclear how their rank-and-file members would react to details from the secret negotiations. Passing a water deal that includes a bond needs a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, requiring at least some support from Republicans, who are in the minority.
Schwarzenegger had delayed acting on 703 bills from this summer's legislative session to pressure lawmakers to improve California's deteriorating and inadequate water system.
He acted on nearly 200 of the bills Sunday afternoon and planned to sign or veto all but about 300 bills in the coming hours, said spokesman Aaron McLear. He was reserving decisions on roughly 200 remaining bills until he gauged the day's progress from the water talks, McLear said.
He vetoed about half and signed about half, acting on those measures as he would in any other year, McLear said. The ones that remained were chosen because the governor was less certain of his decision, McLear said.
The governor is pushing for more reservoirs and a controversial canal to improve a water storage and conveyance system mostly built in the 1960s.
"I'm fighting to rebuild our crumbling water system," Schwarzenegger said in his weekly radio address Saturday, repeating his upbeat speech from a water rally Friday. "Water is jobs for California, water is food, water is our future, water is our economy."
Illustrating the urgency, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor were in California on Sunday, meeting with farmers along the massive federal Central Valley water project that sends Northern California water to farmers in dry areas of the state that supply much of the nation's fruits and vegetables.
The two federal leaders were also meeting with Latino farmworkers to discuss California's three-year drought and other water issues. The predicament will only worsen as the state's population grows.